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AML survivor: How running a half-marathon helped me cope with cancer recovery

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neumann21113.jpgBy Gerard Neumann

It started with inspiration from my daughter Emily. Starting her senior year of college, Emily knew she needed to lose a more than a few pounds. Her health was at risk. She decided to modify her diet and run in a half marathon. She had four months to get ready.

In a show of support, her four siblings, none of whom had ever run a half marathon, decided to join her. I watched with amazement as all five actually finished the race in December 2012. "I could never do that," I thought to myself. My stem cell transplant from my acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment had only been two years prior. Running a half marathon seemed impossible.

However, in summer 2013, I was out for a four mile run with my youngest daughter, Mikaela, when we made a wrong turn and ended up running seven. "Maybe I could do a half," I thought.

Training for a race after cancer treatment
That started the training. Mikaela and I spent most early summer mornings up on the road. By the time October came, I could run 10 miles. Originally, my intent was just to run the half with my children in College Station, Texas that December. I got antsy and decided to run by myself in El Paso at the end of October. I managed a decent time (for a 57-year-old) of two hours and 25 minutes. I had done it.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I never would have considered running that far. I was somewhat athletic before I got sick. I used to alternate four-mile runs and 45 minute swims. My runs included a steep half-mile incline. After my transplant, I would take lots of walks with my wife. Walk runs came next. Low red blood cell counts made the running part pretty tiring. As my counts recovered the runs became easier. When I started training for the half, my goal became to get faster and to run longer.

Finding a new frame of mind
Recovery from cancer is daunting. I thought about cancer all the time. Training for the half put me in a new frame of mind. I slowly began to forget about recovering from cancer and began to think about trying to beat the half-marathon.

When I ran with my children this past December I gained a new insight. A cancer diagnosis puts us in touch with our mortality and the inevitability of death. I don't want to die from cancer or anything else. No one does. Watching my children run this December calmed somewhat my worry about what would happen to my children after I am gone.

My three youngest children all opted to run the full marathon the second time around. The oldest of us finished our runs and waited for Mikaela to finish. She ran for more than five hours, and we all were there to support her as she neared the finish line.

Seeing the love they shared as she finished let me see that when my death does come, my children will be OK.

They took care of her as she finished and supported each other in training for their runs, and I can feel confident they will do so in other areas of life as well. That gives a peace going forward, no matter what happens.

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